In the Darkest Hour (1 Peter 3:8-22)

“In the darkest hour, when I cannot breathe
Fear is on my chest, the weight of the world on me
Everything is crashing down, everything I had known
When I wonder if I’m all alone”

These are the opening lines of Lauren Daigle’s song “Remember.”  What do we do when we face “the darkest hours” of our lives? Perhaps you feel like you are facing them now, it may be for some of us they are about to come.  I am talking about those times when there seems to be no hope left, when circumstances press in and everything seems to be falling apart, when the dark cloud of depression will not lift, when others treat us cruelly and harshly, especially when we are persecuted for following Christ. 

We have been seeing through 1 Peter that it is possible to keep going and stand firm as believers, loving and serving others even when we are not loved back.  All of this is possible because first and foremost we love and serve Christ, the one who loved us first and will never let us go and never let us down.  He has “always been faithful to us.”

Remember that even in this hostile world you are part of Christ’s family (v8-12)

V8 Finally -sums up the section on submission to one another, even when not reciprocated.  What does this mean to be part of church (c.f. Ephesians 5:21)? 

               -of one mind: unity in belief and purpose

– brotherly love:  along with compassion the emphasis is on the church as family together  shelter and discipleship in a hostile world

-compassion :  Literally “good-hearted”. Some translations go with tender hearted.  It is not just about showing pity or charity to others but an instinctive heart orientation to be kind

– Humble: This was counter cultural to hierarchical Greco-Roman culture. Indeed ”The word usually denoted a vice …. In Greek culture.”[1]

V9 -Commentators agree that this now reverts to focus on life in relation to those outside the church. However it is worth observing that even in church life things can go wrong. Christians do not always behave towards one another with brotherly love, compassion and humility. Sadly some of the most severe wounds are those inflicted by friendly fire.  If this passage picks up on life in “the darkest hour” then surely some of our darkest hours have come when we have been hurt by the words and actions of people within the church family. We are even more tempted to give up at those points. Sometimes this happens because of thoughtlessness, often the hurt is unintended. However, I have seen times when believers have become so obsessive about an issue or so defensive about a matter in their own life that they have lashed out intentionally to hurt others. This does not justify such behaviour and there are other passages that deal with how it should be corrected. However, the passage reminds us that even when our fellow believers hurt us and let us down we are to love, forgive and to serve. We are not to repay evil with good, whether from outside or within. This is because we have been called to inherit a blessing. 

V10 On one level there is practical wisdom here. There is a practical blessing that comes in this life. If you want to enjoy a long and contented life then it makes sense to get on with others. However, more than this, Christians look not just to life now but also to eternity.  It is not that we earn the eternal blessing but how we live should reflect what we believe. If we are heirs of God’s blessing then we should live lives now which show the hope we have.[2]

V11 Believers are to actively turn their backs on evil, on violence and vengeance and to pursue peace. We are to work at building a community where love, compassion and humility are the norm. This means that when there is hurt, when tempers are lost, when there is falling out, we cannot sit back and wait for others to sort it out. It is no good sitting back and saying “it wasn’t my fault.”  We are to proactively go and seek reconciliation. We are to be peace-makers.

V12. We do this because it is God who is watching our lives. There is a stern warning that God is against those who do evil.  We cannot claim to be believers if our lives show that we are consistently seeking to hurt, harm and undermine. 

Remember when you suffer that it is Christ who is the true Lord of your life (V13-16)

V13 – The General wisdom reason for doing good is that others will treat you the same. Why, all things being equal would someone want to harm you if you show the qualities described above

V14. Of course we know that the believer’s experience if often far from this -hence the section on citizens, slaves and wives. Often they experienced opposition and slander. However, believers are not to be afraid. Literally, they are not to fear their fears. The reference here is to Isaiah 8:12 and has the idea of not being afraid of the things they are afraid of (their idols). The sense here is more “the fears they threaten you with”. However the two are often linked, people often threaten us with the same things they fear. That’s why it is often said that bullies are cowards.

Do not fear opposition because you are still blessed, even if not in this world and by the people around us. God sees and God rewards. This is the basis of keeping our side of the deal even when it is not returned. Paul makes a similar argument to slaves in Ephesians 6:8. We submit and serve because it is Christ we are submitting to, loving and serving through our service to others.

V15. Literally we are to “declare Christ holy.” Or set him apart as Lord. This is to recognise his purity, goodness and distinctiveness. He is exalted over creation. We recognise him as utterly different to the other earthly and spiritual powers and rulers where they are weak and/or cruel he is both strong and good. This is also clear evidence for Christ’s deity. Peter takes the words of Isaiah 8:13 which talk about revering the Lord and applies them to Christ. This is so vital. How can I show respect and serve those who ill-treat me? The answer must be that it is whenever we are tempted to fear the power that others seem to have over us, the reality is different. We belong to Christ and even if we face momentary suffering, he is the one who holds us safe in his hands guaranteeing our eternal security.

By honouring Christ, we are ready to give a reason (the Greek word here is apologia from which we get apologetics) for the hope we have.  Christians when asked “how do you face suffering?” Can respond “Because I have trusted Jesus.” Hope refers to the future aspect of salvation, or future grace that Christ will return and that we will be safe with him forever.  I do not need to fear present threats because the greatest threat or fear of all, the sting of death and the dread of judgement has been removed.

V16 But do this without being defensive or aggressive. Be gentle, humble, compassionate -again all the things mentioned in v8. Even our false accusers will have to recognise that their claims are untrue and our good conduct should put them to shame.

There is a well-known story of a soldier who followed Jesus. Every day he would sit on his bunk, read his Bible and pray. He was mocked and taunted by the other soldiers.  One day as he prayed, another man through his dirty boots at him hitting him. Instead of cursing or throwing them back, he kept praying. The next day the soldier who had thrown the books found them neatly by his bunk, cleaned and polished. It is said that quite a few soldiers from the unit put their faith in Christ because of that witness.[3]

V17 Reminds us that it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Once again he will tie this into the example of Christ.

Remember that the Gospel means that there is no-where beyond the reach and protection of Christ, our exalted risen Lord.

V18 – We can suffer because Christ has already suffered. This was a once in time, once for all suffering to take away our sin. Again Christ provides the example and the motivation for how we live now. Again, our example is rooted in the full and final work of atonement. We can live obediently because our disobedience has been dealt with. We can suffer when innocent because Jesus was the sinless one who suffered for our sin.

Note the parallel here.  He was put to death in the flesh but was raised to life in the Spirit.  This is important for what comes next. Peter links together Christ’s death and resurrection and says that his death was brought about by unbelieving humans and his resurrection is through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.

V19-20 has caused all sorts of controversy. What does Peter mean here? Some people have assumed that this is describing something Jesus did between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The feel that there is some missing time to account for and that Peter explains it. Did Jesus descend to hell? This has even led some to talk about Jesus suffering hell for us, that the physical suffering was not enough and so he needed additional spiritual suffering. This can’t be right. Jesus said “It is finished” on the Cross and in this very passage, Peter is clear that the death was itself a “once for all” sacrifice. No further suffering was needed.

Some have also used this to suggest that disobedient people who did not repent during their life will get a second chance and Jesus will appear to them in purgatory. But the Bible is clear that it is in this life that the decision about Christ and repentance must be made.  Check out the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. 

So what is going on? Well, there are two possibilities. It is clear that the context in which Peter has Jesus preaching to the imprisoned disobedient spirits is that of the resurrection bringing spirit. So, either.

  1. Peter means that in his resurrection power Jesus went and preached to captive spirits. These are possibly the disobedient angels mentioned in Genesis 6.  The preaching here is not the Gospel. Rather, Ephesian 3:10 shows that our salvation is a witness to the authorities and powers that they are defeated and judged. Their time is up. This would link with Paul’s language about Christ leading captives free (see 2 Corinthians and Ephesians 4).
  2. It is not temporal. Rather the point is that just as Jesus is raised through the Spirit, so too through the Spirit’s inspiration Christ spoke to the disobedient people in the time of the Flood. Noah, through the Spirit, preached Christ, warning people to find salvation. 

Either way, the point is this.

  1. That no-one has an excuse.
  2. That we have nothing to fear.

My friend Matthew Sleeman describes this as the 3 O Clock in the morning text. You know when your child wakes up in a panic from a bad nightmare.  How can you help them get back to sleep? Or if it is you who has experienced the night terror, how do you get back to sleep peacefully? Well Matthew says that he points his children to these verses and says “Look, there is nowhere that Christ has not been and cannot get to. Even in the darkest place of your worst nightmares, you are not beyond his reach.

Here in 1 Peter we see that there is nowhere in time or space beyond the reach of  Jesus. Where-ever you find yourself, where-ever he places you he will be there, in fact he goes ahead of us even to the darkest place and the darkest hour. Jesus, the one (v22) now seated at God’s right hand who has authority and power over the darkest place and the darkest hour.

V20 And then do you see the link between the Ark and baptism and salvation.  Just a little side point for Peter. The Ark is a type of baptism because baptism visual represents the cleansing power of God to make us clean from sin on the inside. It is therefore, symbolically through baptism and all it represents that we are saved just as the ark represented  God’s power to save through the flood. So here is another reason not to fear. We have already been saved from our very worst fear, we have been saved from the sin that separates us from God.

Conclusion

What will keep you going in the darkest hour? It can only be if you have found your safety and security in Christ.  He is the one who holds time and space in his hands. There is nowhere beyond his reach.

There is a hope that burns within my heart,
That gives me strength for every passing day;
A glimpse of glory now revealed in meagre part,
Yet drives all doubt away:
I stand in Christ, with sins forgiven;
And Christ in me, the hope of heaven!
My highest calling and my deepest joy,
To make His will my home.[4]


[1] Michaels, WBC, 177.

[2] Note v 10-12 are quoting Psalm 34:12-16

[3] Borrowed from Karen Jobes’ commentary. 

[4] Stuart Townend.

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